Friday, August 22, 2014

Mesa Verde Community, Inc. Forum Wrap

There was value for most of the 150 or so people who sat in the audience at the Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forum hosted by Mesa Verde Community, Inc. for a little over two hours last night.  Even those of us who follow politics closely learned a few new things, and had some old opinions reinforced.

Seven of the eight candidates participated.  Lee Ramos apparently chose to blow this forum off.  He wasn't missed, but I suspect those folks who have made him the second-highest campaign contribution collector might have been wondering about how they spent their money.

The formal part of the evening was preceded by a "meet and greet" period, which included background music by Michael Donohoe - a nice touch.

The crowd of around 150 people was, for the most part, attentive and respectful.  I recognized about a third of that number.  The rest were new faces.  Most sat quietly in their seats, listening intently, although there were some Righeimer supporters lurking in the back of the room. 

Moderator Darnell Wyrick, President of Mesa Verde Community, Inc., was off his game last night.  Although the event was scripted, he managed to botch things right from the start.  He forgot to let the candidates present themselves and didn't offer them a chance for a closing presentation.  Plus, in the midst of the event he continually got confused about which candidate was to speak next.  And, throughout the evening he referred to the candidates as "Mr." or "Mrs." - except for Jim Righeimer, to whom he referred as "Mayor Righeimer" every single time.

The format was to ask each of the candidates the same question, rotating the chance to answer first with each new question.  The candidates got two minutes each to answer the first three questions, one minute each for the next three, then thirty seconds each for a few more.  The pace was brisk.

Let me say here that I introduced myself to candidate Rita Louise Simpson and also met her husband before the program began.  She seems like a very nice woman, but she is absolutely clueless on almost every important city issue!  She supports the Charter and wants something done about the Unfunded Pension Liability, but doesn't understand why in either case.  When she did talk about those issues she apparently was reading from a script - or so it seemed - straight from Tea Party Tom Pollitt's playbook.  It was sad to watch.

Wyrick's first question asked the candidates their opinion of The Charter.  Chris Bunyan, Katrina Foley and Jay Humphrey do not support the Charter.  Tony Capitelli, Simpson and Righeimer supported it and Al Melone told us that, while he supports the Charter, he's not enthusiastic about it and thinks it's getting too much attention.

The next question asked about their views on Development.  Capitelli told us it's the council's responsibility to add value to the community, but expressed concern about parking and open space.  Foley was for balanced growth and cited her time on the Planning Commission and City Council when the negative impacts of developments were considered.  She stressed quality of life issues.

Humphrey spoke of the General Plan update in which he participated when last on the council, citing the need for development plans to be consistent with the approved General Plan.  he referred to unbridled growth to cancer.  Melone went off on a tangent about taxes and the proliferation of fast food restaurants.

Then it was Righeimer's turn and he deflected any criticism of his regime's development frenzy by blaming Orange Coast College for growth and the 55 Freeway for traffic.  He spoke of the development plans in the works for OCC and said "nobody says a word about that!"  Simpson said, "I've seen some of the developments.  The traffic is doing fine."  As I said, she's clueless.

Bunyan gave the best response, citing the transient nature of the OCC students, the recently approved apartment complex at 125 Baker Street and mentioned the very pro-development City Council.

They were then asked how to manage the unfunded pension liability.  Foley cited the recent agreement in which the Miscellaneous Employees agreed to a higher contribution, mentioned that this is not just a local problem, but a state and federal issue, too.  She encouraged a more collaborative approach with the employees - change the hostile work atmosphere.  She said the current council just talks about it but does nothing to fix the problem.  Humphrey suggested a one-time pay out option for our pensions.

Melone said he doesn't believe in paying down the liability, stating that as long as the City remained financially solvent the pensions will just keep on being paid.   Righeimer went on one of his "we love our police and our fire" rants, accused Foley of quitting the council, said "people don't understand the math."  He, condescendingly, made a reference to "the adults showing up to negotiate for the employees" and feigned anger about the issue.  It was way, way too contrived.

Simpson said the pension liability is unbelievable.  Duh!  Bunyan said the days of sweet pension deals are over, then criticized CalPERS for its role in this mess.

Then Capitelli criticized the participants for their hostility - a comment obviously directed at Righeimer, and said, "It's time to stop posturing and work toward solutions."  Yep.

Then came the one-minute-response questions.  The first one asked the candidates what made them qualified for a council seat.  Humphrey cited his previous council experience, his 37-year residence in the City and his long, successful business career.  Melone cited his CPA and MBA and his ability to analyze issues.

Righeimer said, "I'll rest on my record.", then blasted Foley for being part of a council that "blew through $35 million in reserves" - neglecting to mention that she helped build those reserves and they were available when they were needed during the severe economic downturn.  He patted himself on the back for being responsible for "$40 million in roads and alleys" - which he was not.  He said, "Sometimes when you make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.", as though that was relevant to something.  Then he said "Sometimes you have to be an adult."  He sometimes speaks in tongues - this was one of those times.  Personally, I was very happy to hear him say he would rest on his record.  That record is one of dictatorial arrogance, bullying, rule-breaking and failure to plan before acting, which has resulted in millions of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

Simpson cited her experience as a teacher and her time at the Auto Club.  Capitelli cited his law degree, his years working as a federal government employee and his experience and interest in housing issues.  He stressed his collaborative approach.  Foley cited her proven record of getting things done, and used as examples her time on the council when those street improvements actually began; the fact that she helped fight off the sale of the OC Fairgrounds and improve the traffic situation on Broadway.  She cited her successful business in Newport Beach and said, as a lawyer, she knew how to collaborate.

The next question asked, "If elected, what are their first three goals".  Melone said a moritorium on development and controlling the coyote problem.  Righeimer said just continue the current direction.  Simpson echoed him, then said she thought we should do something about the Homeless because "they are dangerous."  As I said....

Bunyan fired off five ideas: 1) Put Public Comments back at the beginning of Council meetings; 2)more affordable, transitional housing; 3) Stop high density development; 4) More government transparency and 5) Resolve the illegal trail in Fairview Park.  Capitelli also cited the need for affordable, transitional housing, the return of the Illumination Foundation, the need for more mental health workers and the need to NOT kick out the motels, which provide housing.

Foley said she wanted to stop the rising costs of legal fees, which she said are now at $175,000 per month!  She also cited the need to bring public safety staffing back up to a proper level, to NOT close Fire Station #6 and a balanced General Plan.  Humphrey agreed about the Public Comments and the staffing of public safety positions

They were then asked about changing the Westside Overlays.  Righeimer said the question is incorrect, that the projects don't generate more traffic, the 55 Freeway does.  Simpson had no answer.  Bunyan disagreed with Righeimer, citing the traffic snarl at 17th Street and Newport Boulevard and suggested more attention be paid to the General Plan Circulation Element.

Capitelli said it's time to take a second look at the Overlays.  Foley recalled the original approvals and intent and said the implementation is off the mark.  Humphrey said the plans have been corrupted, increasing density.  Melone agreed with him.

The next question asked about the changes in commercial zoning.  Simpson had no answer, then complained about the "Alzheimer homes".... As I said...  Bunyan said a side effect of the changes are a loss of harmonious areas.  He said we should keep existing businesses.  Capitelli said he's in favor of small businesses..

Foley said she favors a balanced approach, citing the need to retain the "small town feel".    Humphrey agreed, and said we are driving businesses out of the city.  He also cited the increase in high density developments.  Melone made some remark about his mechanic having a better breeze at his Westside shop than Melone has in Mesa Verde.

Righeimer blamed Foley for the density!

Then began the questions with 30 second responses.  The first was about Banning Ranch.  Bunyan said "Save Banning Ranch."  Capitelli said we can't do much since it's in Newport Beach.  Foley agreed, and stated that we will get 100% of the traffic from the project.

Melone described it as a "impending disaster".  Righeimer blamed it on previous councils and said the Coastal Commission may approve a smaller development.  Simpson said it's similar to Fairview Park.. As I said...

They were then asked about Fairview Park.  Capitelli said the park should be protected.  Foley agreed 100% and that the current Master Plan should be followed.  Humphrey said keep it as natural as possible and referred to the current activities of the US Fish and Wildlife in the park.

Melone agreed with the previous. Righeimer said continue the current Master Plan.  Simpson said she was glad "the Indians came to talk with us."  As I said...  Bunyan said protect Fairview Park - "save it, don't pave it".

Next came a question about Budget priorities.  Foley said reduce the legal fees.  Humphrey, inexplicably, seemed to have a major brain burp and came up with a mumbled statement about keeping the city fiscally sound.  Melone said paving the streets was good, but spending money to re-landscape medians is unnecessary, and that we should be re-building our reserves.

Righeimer went into a song and dance about having a $135 million budget and said we "don't budget to build reserves, but sometimes we have a surplus."  Simpson muttered something about the Charter and Unfunded Pensions.  Bunyan said the Charter can't do much but "Jim would burn down the city to get it passed".  Capitelli suggested Supportive Housing be at the top of the list.

Next up were questions from the floor.  This is where things got more than a little muddled.  Wyrick attempted to blend a few questions into one, or one and a half.  Anyhow, it began with the Sober Living homes and what we can and should be doing about them.  Humphrey, first at bat on this one, said it's a complicated issue and that we should be seeing what other cities are doing.

Melone hadn't studied it.  Righeimer said there are 200 such home in the city, mentioned his new Task Force - which has shown no results yet, by the way.  Humphrey wondered why there was no ballot measure on this one.  Simpson made a peculiar comment about tobacco addiction.  Bunyan referred to the amicus brief Costa Mesa filed to assist Newport Beach with its law suit.  Foley said we should be working with regulators to block whole neighborhoods.

Then came question asking when we would be at full strength in the CMPD.  Melone said they are "working day and night" to hire new people.  Righeimer said Chief Gazsi is doing a great job, that we'll add 20 more people before the end of the year and that "We'll be fine."  Really?   Well, I guess that's all we need to know!  Yes sir, staffing is off 30%, our cops are working horrendous overtime hours and "We'll be fine."  Thanks, Mr. Mayor.

I missed Simpson's and Bunyan's responses.  When Capitelli tried to answer by stating that he's been told we have only 5 cops on patrol at a time Righiemer interrupted him and tried to speak over him.  The audience shouted him down!  Foley said it's important to increase the staffing levels because crime is on the increase.  Give the chief the freedom to hire.  Humphrey cited the reasons for the loss of officers - the hostile workplace and the hiring freeze.

Next came a question about a library.  Righeimer said we have a good plan to convert "this building" into a library and turn the existing library building into a meeting room.  It would only cost $4-6 million.  Simpson said it sounds like a good idea, then said "The homeless know where they are."  As I said...

Bunyan cited the Mesa Verde Library and said it needs some TLC.  Capitelli said he likes the mayor's plan.  Foley said support the Friends of the Library and agreed about the Mesa Verde Library.

Humphrey said he strongly supported funding a library, then referred to the recent "raid" of the library funds in the budget to re-plant brand new medians in Mesa Verde.  Melone said it's more important to re-build the "rainy day fund".

Next was a question about why apartment developers exempt from paying park fees.  Actually, it took awhile for that question to get fleshed out.  Simpson had no answer.  Bunyan said, "Ask Jim that one."  Capitelli had no answer.  Foley said the staff is working on a plan to charge park fees for apartment developments.  Humphrey concurred and expanded on that idea.

Melone tried to give Righeimer his time.  He was rebuffed.  Righeimer quoted the Quimby Act, which maybe two people in the audience understood.

Then came the question about the 60th Anniversary expenditures.  Bunyan said people have not come forth with reasons for the overspending.  Wondered who was watching.  Capitelli said it clearly was mismanaged.  Foley cited the need for proper checks and balances.  Humphrey said it was mismanaged across the board and cited the no-bid contracts.  Melone said it just confirmed a feeling he had that the City was not well-managed.  Righeimer dodged the personnel issues and wondered who was supposed to sign off on the charges.  Simpson said it was a one-time deal.... Oh, well...

When asked about how to bring balance to economic development, Capitelli said provide more support to small businesses.  Foley said focus on tourism, including raising the TOT.  Humphrey said stop driving businesses away from Costa Mesa.  Melone liked tourism, then complained that businesses bring traffic!  Good grief!  He said he was grateful for South Coast Plaza.

Righeimer did a riff on how our city brings in more Sales Tax dollars than any other city of similar size.  He said, "The City is in great financial shape!"  Simpson said she liked South Coast Plaza because you can park there.  As I said...  Bunyan said play to our strengths - being the City of the Arts and the apparel industry.

They were then asked about campaign funding, and if they received any outside finances from unions or developers and how much.  Foley said she received about $18,000, of which $7,500 came from the Newport Beach Police Association and $2,500 from another police agency - the Sheriff's, I believe.  The remainder comes from Costa Mesa residents.

Humphrey said 100% from Costa Mesa residents.  Melone said he's taking no contributions.   Righeimer then went on a rant about Foley's admission about the contributions, but didn't answer the question.  Simpson said she's not taking any.  Righeimer, in response to jeering from the crowd, said, "It's a public record - look it up!"

 Bunyan said "Zero and Zero", but that the bulk of Jim's are coming from outside.  Capitelli said "Zero and Zero", and that he'd raised $19,000 from family and friends.  Foley talked about the need to raise funds for campaigning.

Then there was a confusing question that turned out to be about the ballot measure Righeimer proposed for November giving the voters a chance to sign in on the proposed toll lanes on the I-405 freeway.  Foley said she opposes the "Lexus Lanes", but that it didn't need to be on the ballot.  Humphrey opposes the toll lanes, but also wondered why it needed to be on the ballot.  Melone said it's like Banning Ranch - we have no control over it.

Righeimer riffed about the toll roads costing $1.3 billion and that he wanted to put the issue on the ballot so the voters could tell the governor how we felt.  Simpson said we paid for the road and that they need to be maintained... clueless.  Bunyan didn't favor the toll roads and thought the ballot measure was only symbolic.  Capitelli said we all want to stop the toll road.

Finally came a question about dividing the city into voting districts.  Righeimer said the City is too small for districts and that he's not real positive about it.  Humphrey said the residents could request the change whether a Charter or General Law City, and said the city is not big enough.

Foley used the School Board as an example of why it's not necessary.  Melone said we should just elect the best people, regardless where they live.  Capitelli said districts might take some dollars out of campaigning.  Bunyan said they would make campaigning easier.

Whew!  I'm sure you're even more tired of reading this tome than I am of writing it!  The folks from CMTV were filming the event and it will enter the playlist rotation next Tuesday at noon.  Check the city web site for the actual times.  It will also be available on streaming video in a couple days.

So, my take on the meeting... it was worthwhile, but needed a tighter rein.  I'm grateful to the good folks at Mesa Verde Community, Inc., for holding the event.  I'm sorry they didn't do a better job of publicizing it - there were a lot of empty seats.

I was not surprised at how it went.  Rita Simpson is clueless about most issues.  Al Melone knows more than he did two years ago, but not much.

Chris Bunyan is back and, quite honestly, added a lot to the discussion last night.  Tony Capitelli is clearly a bright young guy with an equally bright future.  I liked most of his answers, but not all of them.  Unless something changes between now and when I mail my ballot, he won't get my vote.

Katrina Foley and Jay Humphrey demonstrated that they've got what it takes to be elected to the council again.  Both have the experience, expertise, intelligence, compassion and patience to do a good job for the residents.

Jim Righeimer demonstrated for the audience just why he should NOT be re-elected.  He's an arrogant, dictatorial, condescending bully.  He interrupted several speakers because they challenged what he said.  He decided to keep speaking when his time was up because he decided it was important.  That's his style.  The rules are for somebody else.  He told us he will "rest on his record".  Great, because it's a record of fiscal irresponsibility, chaos and divisiveness.  I look forward to the next forum - the Feet To The Fire Forum - on September 18th.  Maybe my neighbor, Old Lee Ramos will show up for that one.

It's going to be a very painful campaign season.  Tighten your chin straps...

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Any truth to the rumor that Ramos was seen sleepwalking down Adams during the forum?

The little dictator is freaking out. All that money from developers is being wasted. When he loses they will not be happy.

8/22/2014 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Why does Righeimer favor outside interests over the people of Costa Mesa?

8/22/2014 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

Perfect recap, Geoff.

I felt embarrassed for Mrs. Simpson and have no clue why she chose to run. Watch her get 800 votes and decide the election.

Personally, I thought Chris Bunyan was the most impressive person on the panel. Too bad he has little prayer of winning a seat, he'd be a great addition to the council.

Righeimer has got lying down to an art, he has had so much practice. I am only glad I was sitting in one of the back rows because of the slime that was emanating from the man. However, it's obvious his campaign plan is to trash Katrina Foley. Textbook negative campaigning....throw as much crap at a candidate and see what sticks.

I am glad Capatelli is running, simply because I see him draining votes from Riggy. I knew little about him but he's not a Riggy sycophant. He's concerned about the homeless, and made that clear. I am still not sure where he stands on the more important issues, though. Maybe in 2 years, not in 2014.

Ramos should have shown up, I don't believe he could have answered more ineptly than Mrs. Simpson. Then again.....

8/22/2014 07:19:00 AM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

thank you so much for your coverage as usual and for letting us know that it will be on cmtv (and when).

8/22/2014 07:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

Once again, thanks, ol' Pot Stirrer, for an excellent rundown on the forum. In addition to recording the raw facts of the evening (and there were quite a few of the unintentional ones buried in the scripted ones), you pierced the wall of words and gave us one of your patented "color" background commentaries that helps answer the question voters ask, "So, what does this mean for me?"

8/22/2014 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Jim rests on his record because he lives in a parallel universe where everything positive is due to his actions and everything negative is due to past city councils. Pople who disagree with him are "haters."

The bursting of the real estate bubble and ensuing recession had no effect on city revenues. Costa Mesa has reserves now because of Jim's wonderful leadership, not because of an improving economy. (sarcasm implied)

8/22/2014 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Thanks for a great write up on last night's forum.
I'm getting a better picture of Ms. Simpson, a last minute candidate who few people know about.
From your description of her it does look like she was thrown into the candidate pool to siphon votes. Ms. Simpson knows NOTHING about the serious issues in our city. The homeless are "dangerous"?? Gimme a break!
Righeimer is a crude, rude hypocrite. He talks about the "adults" being present at negotiations yet he behaves like a grade school bully, yelling, interrupting others while they have the floor, talking way past his time, lying through his teeth, etc.
Where does he think he is- at a CM City Council meeting?
We have a chance to change that.
Remember in NOvember.
No Rs!

8/22/2014 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

Great overview Geoff...moderator was more than off his game...combining sober living question together with 30 sec response time cray cray....Rita Simpson, omg, really,
"the Indian people"'.,,homeless are dangerous... my personal fav, re: sober living, "I have friends who are addicted to cigarettes". ...Did I doze off and wake up in an a parallel universe? Moderator did not use my one questions: Does your PTSD condition , as stated in the lawsuit against CMPD Assoc., affect your ability to perform your mayor duties, is it further risking your mental health participating in re-election process?
Like what was wrong with that question?

8/22/2014 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

Check out Jimmy Fitzys cmtax page. He's complaining about the campaign signs against the bogus charter and the ones for Humphrey/Foley. "Why print the signs so early? What are they afraid of?" I guess they are figueing on a campaign strictly of lies and deceit. Wait till they drag out their #2 candidate! Ramos will make Rita Simpson look like Barbara Jordan.

8/22/2014 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Fitzpatrick is complaining about campaign signs "so early" when he's had a Lee Ramos sign in his front yard for, what, a couple of months now???

8/23/2014 12:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's my Coffee? said...

Really? Thats what Fitz complains about? Signs? He is probably pissed because he can't stuff his fat ass into a golf cart yet and run all over the place with his. Give it time Fitz, I'm sure we'll see that cart, with a hefty tilt to the left before long.

I think they are all surprised at how badly his royalty did at the forum. That was simply a question/answer and he couldn't get through it without polarizing everyone there.

8/23/2014 08:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Mensinger also has a Ramos sign out in front of his house

8/23/2014 09:25:00 AM  

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